Dr. Ioulia Valla Awarded NSF Grant

Dr. Ioulia Valla (right), graduate student Ameya P. Akkalkotkar with Professor George Bollas’ group (left)
Dr. Ioulia Valla (right), graduate student Ameya P. Akkalkotkar with Professor George Bollas’ group (left)

Assistant Research Professor Ioulia Valla has been awarded a $190,000 grant from the Energy for Sustainability Division of the National Science Foundation. The grant is in support of her project entitled Turning Tars into Energy: Zeolites with Hierarchical Pore Structure for Catalytic Cracking of Tars. The goal of this research is to convert waste tars compounds into valuable gases using a one-step catalytic process, testing the hypothesis that zeolite-based materials with hierarchical pore network architecture will eliminate the diffusion limitations of the heavy multi-ring aromatic compounds hydrocarbons present in tars and will accommodate their cracking.

Tars are Poly-Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) present in the synthesis gas, which impose detrimental effects in downstream gasification processes. They are carcinogenic in nature and significantly reduce the overall process efficiency. Thus, they need to be either removed or converted. Zeolites are catalytic materials widely used in industry for the cracking of heavy hydrocarbons, but their microporous system imposes significant diffusion limitations. The research of Dr. Valla’s group is focused on the modification of the zeolite pore structure and the development of a hierarchical pore network and metal active sites that will enhance the cracking and the reforming of the PAH to synthesis gas.

Dr. Valla says, “our hypothesis lies on the idea that utilizing the advantages of zeolites with hierarchical porosity and transition metals would be ideal and would create great potential for transforming the unwanted tars to valuable energy. We hope to achieve a breakthrough that will have a significant impact on today’s energy crisis and will ‘unlock’ the future of biomass as a renewable fuel.” Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering George Bollas is co-PI on this project.

Zeolite pore with catalyst coating inside.
Zeolite pore with catalyst coating inside.